Let me say it again...
Riot Fest 2017 lived up to any and all hype that was abound about it. Was there hype about it? I actually don't know, but for a lineup that I heard more than one person voice as "weak", I had an amazing time! Amazing!!!
This was my 5th Riot Fest...if you count the one year I bartended. I could still hear bands. If not, then it was my 4th. One of the things I love about Riot Fest is that I know every year, I will discover at least one new band, one additional musical love that I didn't have before entering the festival. It's without a doubt. The two bands immediately come to mind...
...The Year was 2013...the scene, Humboldt Park. I don't even remember which band I was heading to see, but everyone was making a beeline to one of the side stages, which piqued my interest. So, I followed the crowd. And that was when I was introduced to GWAR. While I can't be certain, I think that was the performance when a priest came out and blessed the crowd, and then the band..getting his head decapitated for his troubles...and then spraying the crowd with blood!
I just stood there with a hand over my mouth. I had never seen anything like it. I was just like "WTF???" Initially, I didn't even like the music. I feel like the performance was really loose, because now, I pretty much dig every GWAR song I hear. While I don't listen to them tons, GWAR is one of my DO NOT MISS Riot Fest bands. I always make sure I catch them....regardless of who they play opposite.
The other band that I discovered at Riot Fest was the same year. I didn't have any bands on the schedule I was especially interested in, but a guy I met walking around told me to definitely check out Andrew W.K. I'd never heard him/them; all I knew was seeing a poster of a guy in a white t-shirt with blood running down his face. So I head over. I always describe Andrew W.K. as fratboy party rock to anyone who asks me, but it's contagious. I have seen him all 5 years I've gone to the festival, and each time I walk away loving him more and more!
And this year was no different. Well, it was a little different. I actually was there petitioning for the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition. As a volunteer, I was allowed free entry...which means the tickets I bought back in November were fairly useless for me. But we'll look past that. If you attended Riot Fest, you might have seen me...I had a big green sign that said "Between Bands, Help Stop Gun Violence" on one said and "Take a Stand Against Gun Violence" on the other.
Let me say now that if you stopped and talked to me, you are amazing. If you signed my petition, you are a saint. If you rocked a t-shirt or temporary "Disarm Hate" tattoo...you are my hero.
I didn't know what to expect petitioning at an event like this. I didn't expect to run into too many NRA-heads, but I thought I'd run into a few. While one other volunteer (a petite female mind you) said a guy gave her shit, no one said a word to me. Go figure!
But the music....Oh my God...the music! Let me break it down for you!
Saul Williams: My first act of the fest. I didn't know what to expect. The last time I saw Saul was at The Double Door, and he split my wig...his techno driven music isn't normally my cup of tea, but Saul is a masterful storyteller, spinning words into wonderous directions. I wasn't the least bit surprised to find that Saul was doing a spoken-word set, and was informed he did the same thing the last time he was at the fest. He started with the powerful words:
"A Riot is not a Festival. It is a violent disturbing of the peace by a group of people!"
Four Year Strong:
I became a fan of these guys a few years ago, after coming across a video of theirs on Youtube. Unfortunately, I only saw 15 minutes of their set, because I couldn't tear myself away from Saul. That's the only downside of a festival like Riot Fest...they always seem to know the 7-8 bands I want to see, and make sure to perform them oppositve each other at every twist and turn. Bastards!
If you like real hip-hop, with real lyricism, you have to be a fan of Action Bronson. The baddest white man in rap...no exceptions! I only caught the first two songs of his set, but hot damn, this man sets a gold standard for lyricism. His song "Baby Blue" is on regular rotation on my Spotify. Unfortunately, I had to head out to see my next pick...
I'd heard of this band, but hadn't actually heard any of their music. While walking around petitioning I came across some guys who waved me over, and happily signed my petition. I asked where they were from, and they said New York. Turns out, one of the guys was the brother of the singer of State Champs, and they'd come down to enjoy the fest and of course see them perform. We figured out they were playing following Four Year Strong, and they encouraged me to check them out...which I did. Really strong songs, strong performers, they had a huge crowd, who absolutely loved them. Now their on my Spotify, and radar for future festivals.
How can you not like these guys? They hit me like the second coming of Sublime. Amazing combo of American Reggae with a hip-hop sensibility. While most people know them for their standout single "Lay Me Down", they have a full catalogue of tunes that'll have you swaying in the breeze and singing along loud and proud. While everyone else ran to see Ministry, I stayed for their entire set, and danced proudly!
Chicago's own! Another member of the SaveMoney collective that has found himself in the spotlight. I was a huge fan of Vic's mixtape, Innanetape....not so much of his following album, but his newest album "The Autobiography..." is amazing. This was my second time seeing Vic perform...he's solid. He knows how to work the stage and a crowd, and he's got sick flow.
Nine Inch Nails:
I've never been a huge Nine Inch Nails fan...but after seeing Trent Reznor and gang live, now I get it. His songs are made to be consumed live. They hit you in the gut and feels unlike anything you've experienced in a musical venue. I said it all weekend of Riot Fest, and I'll say it here.
Seeing NIN live was a religious experience!
I missed Fishbone. Cue Tears!!!!!
What can you say about this band, whom inspired so many others! Allow me to help you, when they perform, you shut your mouth and you pay respect! And that's exactly what happened. They opened the set with my favorite song, "Give Thanks And Praises" and moved on down through a hitlist of tunes. The last 3 songs, vocalist H.R. left the stage, and was replaced by some kid (turns out that kid was Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe). It was a strong set. They're getting up there in years, but their music is timeless, and I would watch this band sit in wheelchairs and play those tunes.
Mike D(DJ Set):
It was a bit disjointed, but after a day of punk and petitioning, it was nice to hear some hard-hitting bass and hip hop tunes and shake my money maker a bit I'll give it 3 stars.
New Found Glory:
While going to say hello to some friends, I lucked upon the NFG set. I'm familiar with their music. I wouldn't call myself a fan, but they have solid tunes, strong performance, and their crowd was huge and into it.
While futzing around at NFG, turns out Wu-Tang Clan not only gave the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence and the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition a huge shoutout, but my specific name was mentioned....and I missed it!!!! At this point, I was through for the day, and exited stage left.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones:
I saw these dudes the last time they were at Riot Fest, and man, they put on a damn good show. They sound good, they connect, and their music is timeless as well. Their standout album, Let's Face It" came out 20 years ago, and it sounds just as good today as it did then.
I met these two really pretty girls from Indiana while petitioning. They suggested I check out Best Coast. I did. I was happy.
If I had to vote for best performance of the weekend, this one would definitely go into the hat. Andrew W.K. has performed at every Rio Fest, and this was the first time he's done a night performance, and he deserved it. He deserved the spotlight, and a stage that was separated from al the craziness of this main line fest. He deserved everything he got, and he didn't disappoint. He shined like a diamond under those lights, and he lifted the hearts of everyone who bore witness.
And that, my friends, is how you do Riot Fest!
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Tags: Action Bronson, Andrew W.K. Chicago, Bad Brains, Best Coast, Dirty Heads, Douglas Park, Fishbone, Four Year Strong, GWAR, Humboldt Park, Illinois Council Against Gun Violence, Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition, Mighty Bosstones, New Found Glory, NIN, Nine Inch Nails, petitioning, Riot Fest, Saul Williams, State Champs, Vic Mensa, Wu Tang Clan